Extreme Clubhouse Makeover: Is it Time to Consider a Major Renovation?

By: Tom Hoch

Whether it be here in the U.S. or internationally, it's a club's worst nightmare - losing members and revenue due to underutilized spaces that occupy prime locations, and loss leaders that continue to eat profits. Meanwhile, operators and owners find themselves searching for immediate solutions that might help to turn the tide.

For owners and operators buried in day-to-day operations, a change in the built environment doesn't usually present itself as an option. However, a well-designed clubhouse renovation can boost the bottom line by transforming loss leaders into valuable revenue-producing centers, increasing membership and restoring the morale of existing members, guests and daily-fee golfers.

A remodeling project is an investment in a golf club's future. It sends a message to membership that the club is interested in growth and development, while creating a measurable ROI. A new appearance for the golf shop, revamped dining experience, or the addition of a new spa are enhancements that can be the difference between member retention and attrition.

Below are some signs and solutions that will help public courses and private clubs wrestling with the questions of when to renovate and how to pay for it.

Signs it's Time for a Makeover

Leading indicators that a clubhouse is in need of a makeover include visible signs such as dated interior furniture and finishes, and aging equipment such as HVAC systems, plumbing and kitchen appliances. If an interior finish is more than five years old, it may be time to consider an upgrade. If it is beyond seven years (the hotel industry standard), upgrading may be imperative, as mold and other allergens can emerge as health issues.

Other less obvious indicators, however, can be "silent revenue-killers" that pass unnoticed.

For example, rooms and entire wings that are unoccupied and seldom used not only create an unnecessary operational and maintenance expense, but also drain energy from the clubhouse and take up valuable space that may be used in more effective ways.

At the Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Va., I worked with a core group of dedicated members to transform an underutilized 1,450-square-foot meeting room into signature space with several distinctive furnishings and fixtures.

Recently completed, this exclusive pub features a state-of-the-art media center, maple bar with large pillars, and an antiqued cherry finish that combine to produce an authentic New England Pub-style ambiance.

"The Pub," as it has been dubbed, compliments the existing member dining areas, the Grille Room and Rotunda, which offer both casual and fine-dining. Collectively, the three provide Westwood's members with an intriguing mix of food and beverage options and an amenity center that greatly enhances membership value.

Total Versus Partial Renovations - Biting off What You Can Chew

Many clubhouses aren't necessarily in need of a total overhaul. Sometimes, only a few interior architecture tweaks and treatments are needed to make a world of difference. Addressing both indoor and outdoor spaces during a renovation can create a new clubhouse dynamic without dramatically altering the existing structure. In that instance, club members retain the familiarity of their club while experiencing exciting and new developments.

The clubhouse at Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville, Okla. features a contemporary fašade that is almost entirely plate glass. While these windows provide impressive views of the surrounding course, they do not allow for interaction between the interior and exterior spaces.

A new clubhouse master plan now under development calls for the creation of spaces that address this issue. Solutions for Hillcrest include more access points, like doors and patios, and an outdoor entertainment area complete with state-of-the-art media components. With additions such as these, Hillcrest Country Club will be able to completely reinvent the clubhouse experience.

Additionally, an energized "grab-n-go bistro" is being created to serve the timely needs of today's member. A selection of fresh bakery items, ready-to-go salads, sandwiches and beverages will be made available to members.

When to Pull the Trigger

For northern golf courses with a true off-season, planning, design, building and installation of a full clubhouse interior renovation can take place while the club is closed. Courses open year-round can take advantage of shoulder seasons to complete wholesale or spot renovations before the peak season hits.

At TPC Valencia in Valencia, Calif., we completed a renovation without once having to close the club's doors. Members had continual access to the club and revenue remained steady. Projects like TPC Valencia provide an example of a golf course - and even a clubhouse - remaining fully open throughout a renovation project.

Moreover, it is much less expensive to remodel a clubhouse than it is a golf course. If a club is in search of a way to restore its brand, retain members or daily-fee golfers and attract new players, but doesn't have the budget for a full golf course renovation, an interior renovation is a cost-effective way to accomplish these goals.

While the economy is presenting a challenge for clubs, it's also creating an opportunity. The cost of building supplies and construction materials is near a five-year low, and clubs with a sense of urgency can address a number of issues, or even make major changes, for far less capital than might have been needed in a stronger economy.

Tom Hoch is the president of Tom Hoch Design, a leading design-build firm based in Oklahoma City, Okla. Founded in 1963 by his parents Tom (senior) and Joanne Hoch, Tom Hoch Design specializes in club, resort, hotel, restaurant and recreational spaces. The firm has utilizes a "revenue-based design" model, a space planning, sizing and mapping process for retail-driven spaces such as golf shops and food- and-beverage operations. For more information about the firm, visit www.tomhoch.com.